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Thoughts on Thoughts” is a feature that looks at Elliotte Friedman’s terrific weekly post “30 Thoughts.” Justin Bourne selects his 10 favourite tidbits, and elaborates.

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Friedman’s column, March 24th: Leafs’ Reimer should follow Cammalleri’s lead

Opening:

Friedman’s opening this week centered on the plight of James Reimer, and how he could use a little dose of that “eff you” that Mike Cammalleri has shown over the past few weeks. Friedman explained how Cammalleri expected to be dealt to a contender at the deadline, but nobody traded for him despite the fact that he was available. (Overpriced and underperforming, as he was.)

Since the deadline, Cammalleri has killed it, scoring nine goals and 15 points in 10 games (impressive when you consider he only has 37 points on the season). Friedman explained how he sees that run as a bit of an “eff you” to those GMs. True or not, he believes that Reimer, in a situation where the Leafs have shown no respect or trust for him, could use a dose of “eff you” attitude himself coming down the homestretch, only towards the Leafs’ brass.

reimer benchI wrote something similar Monday morning about starting Reimer Tuesday night. If I may quote myself – I do agree with myself fairly often – “Reimer could very well post a classic “eff you coach” game tomorrow night and get hot, and that’s the Leafs best chance at winning six or seven of their next nine games, which they’ll likely need to do.” As in, if he starts playing for himself and changes his mindset, he could pull his mental dune-buggy out of the muddy bog.

My one addendum to Reimer’s situation is that it’s one thing to be “proving a point” on a team that overvalued you (a compliment) and kept you a la Cammalleri, and another to feel like an outsider on the inside of your own dressing room. “Eff these guys” – even if it only means the coaching staff and management – doesn’t feel very good, and isn’t something that’s a part of Reimer’s natural pet-all-the-puppies disposition.

10 Thoughts

2. Carlyle is taking heat as his team hits the iceberg, but last Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to Tampa proved the players must take greater responsibility for their own defensive mindset. There’s no coach in the world who doesn’t prepare his team for Steven Stamkos. The Lightning’s franchise player scored three times, without being bothered in the process. Toronto is fun to watch, but that game hammered home the point that this style isn’t going to work long-term. Prediction: at least one of the more offensive-minded players goes somewhere else this summer for a defensively stout replacement.

We’ll get to the prediction at the end, but first the “style” stuff: the most damning thing I can say about Randy Carlyle’s Leafs is that it looks like they’re playing shinny, which means one of four things:

1) The players aren’t listening to him. He’s put a system in place but his guys skirt it at will so it looks like a ball hockey session in gym class. Not good.

2) They are listening, the system just sucks. Not good.

3) opieHe’s of the belief that he’s got the talent to use a “guideline” over a system. I’m going to write more on this concept later today (based on a written passage from Ken Dryden), but in a nutshell, he thinks they’re good enough to freelance. That’s delusional.

4) He’s actually Opie from Family Guy. Also probably not good.

As for the idea of “trading O for D,” that sounds awfully scary. You can’t teach natural goal creation, but you can teach defense. If you believe the way this team defends is a mess, you’re best cutting ties with Carlyle. Gardiner and Rielly will be a year older next year and a bit more responsible (well, Gardiner should be anyway), and a new way to play is going to go a lot further than bringing in more mid-skill guys and shipping out your creators.

Remember when the Washington Capitals were like “Ew gross, we have all this talent, let’s replace it with muckers after mindlessly running over the league because of some bad luck in playoffs!” That sure panned out great for them, eh?

Keep your dang skill.

4. Here’s the toughest challenge for Craig MacTavish, Dallas Eakins and Edmonton: to them, the Oilers are in the early-to-middle stages of a rebuild, a job that is undoubtedly more difficult than they realized. But, to the fans, this process predates their arrivals (or, in MacTavish’s case, his return). That’s very hard, because you want to preach patience, but your paying customers think they’ve already shown enough. You can’t rush it; you must stick to your plan no matter how loud the complaints.

Sometimes I think fans see ungodly talents like Sidney Crosby and Lebron James and come to believe that that’s what a #1 overall pick is. It’s not.

The Oilers drafted three excellent players #1 overall in the past few years and grabbed Eberle to boot, but let’s just say they’re only destined to be great NHLers, not transcendent (pretty reasonable)? Wouldn’t you expect a pretty sizeable learning curve from teenagers being plugged into the NHL? It’s not even like they’ve been bad individually, they’ve just been asked to do too much.

If the kids were a lifeboat, I think fans were aware that the Oilers ship was sinking in the middle of the ocean and it might take some time for them to get there.

They became the core of the Oilers despite never having played pro hockey, and were asked to fix things. They’ll get it figured out eventually. It’s healthy to remember how young those future-stars still are.

5. One of the most painful things for MacTavish, Kevin Lowe and the fanbase has to be how Calgary — with less star power — is going to beat them in the standings, almost strictly on effort. The question must be, “How do we duplicate that?” The second thing you have to look at is Colorado. On paper, how much better is that defence than Edmonton’s? But they are one of the NHL’s best teams.

Hoo, boy, I dunno here. “Be more like Calgary” sounds like a dicey plan. The Oilers and Flames are both young teams, yet the former has some player-pillars to build on, and now has decent-to-good goaltending. The Flames…not so solid. If you have to “hard work” your way to 14th it’s admirable, but also kinda depressing.

I get Elliotte’s point. The young guys have to learn about the effort it takes night-in, night-out to win more. I get that it’s going to suck to finish behind the Flames for another year. But “replicate the Flames” still seems like a rallying cry to avoid.

As for the Avs, I think they rely less on the “kids” up front (Stastny, Tanguay, Parenteau etc.) which frees them up, those “kids” they drafted are effective even when not scoring (Landeskog, O’Reilly), and they may have actually gotten a transcendent player in MacKinnon. Duchene’s a year older too, so…I’m giving credit to their forwards and Vezina-contending goaltending, not their D.

6. Eakins and Taylor Hall deserve credit for not allowing their bench argument during Edmonton’s 8-1 loss to Calgary to become an explosion. Hall’s dousing of Eakins clearly was an accident, although the coach couldn’t know it at the time because he was watching the play. Hall didn’t yell back, critical in that moment. Can you imagine the scene if he did? After the game, both refused to put more gasoline on an already raging fire.

I thought the same thing. I actually tweeted about this after watching some interviews yesterday sooooo, allow me to quote me again:

All I could think about watching the clip was, if I was mad enough to slam a waterbottle, I would not have taken well to some pretty boy coach overreacting about something that was a clear accident. Sorry I’m upset during an effing shellacking at the hands of our biggest rival, would you like me to be more docile? And I’d have yelled back, and he’d have sent me to the dressing room, and boom, suddenly I’m in Winnipeg or wherever wondering…what just happened?

So yes. Nicely handled by everyone involved.

9. Two players who are going to wait until after the season to worry about their next contracts: Montreal’s P.K. Subban (restricted) and Ryan Miller of St. Louis (unrestricted). Both Doug Armstrong and Marc Bergevin are unafraid of negotiating during the season, but the two players feel it is better to concentrate on games. One thing to remember in Miller’s case, though, is Alex Steen initially said he’d wait, then changed his mind and an extension quickly got done.

I don’t get the “don’t negotiate in-season” thing unless you have the sense your asking price and what they’ll pay is miles apart and it’s gonna be ugly.

…Oh.

I joke, but mostly I assume it’s just a “maximize your money” thing.  Maybe these guys believe they can get more if they go to the off-season and give other teams the chance to make things more difficult for their clubs (whether by offer sheet or straight contract offer). The “not in season!” concept still confuses me a bit, but I’m confident in one thing: if you’re told they aren’t negotiating “to avoid distraction” and believe it, hahahaha. They’re too smart for that, money matters too much, their agents wouldn’t let them pass on negotiating if they though they could get more, so…there’s always something else with stuff like this (like a way to get more deniro).

11. At the Olympics, we talked about Subban’s ability to lift his head and shoot. He said he saw Nicklas Lidstrom do it and tries to emulate that. If you really think about it, that’s probably the play Lidstrom tries to make, too. “I just try to use my teammates,” Subban said. “It’s not always about the big bomb coming from the point. When I have an opportunity to shoot it, I know they want me to shoot it.”

Taking slapshots (well) with your head up is so, so hard. If some jerk in the comments gives me a “So easy? I do that all the time,” he or she can go chew tinfoil. The guys I’m about to mention (and Subban) do it in-game, in-pressure, and can still pop the waterbottle or make the backdoor pass without having to correct.

A picture that blew my mind: when Ovechkin snapped his twig in the All-Star Game’s hardest shot contest, because…you can have your head down all day in that scenario. You know where the net is.

Alex Ovechkin

But nope, no need, I’m good. (There’s a pic from a split-second earlier somewhere – I promise his head was up for the shot.)

I always tell people this might be Andrew MacDonald’s greatest offensive attribute. I remember a powerplay in the ECHL where I was parked in front of the net, and he had it at the point. He was stationary. He wound up, and I started looking to tip. He pumped once with his head up, kept looking around, faked a pass to get a guy out of his lane, then shot the puck over my shoulder (and the goalie’s) without looking down. I’d have lost track of the black round thing like, four seconds earlier.

14. One exec noticed the Blackhawks had a very different approach in their 4-0 win over St. Louis, Chicago’s first victory against them. “The Blues like to bully you,” he said. “Chicago came back hard right away.” If you look back at some of the earlier games between these two teams, it took the defending champs awhile to become engaged. Not this time. You have to stand up to St. Louis right away. Feeling they can physically abuse you really feeds them.

This is a tough call, because if you’re the more skilled team, you don’t want to get sucked into playing the other team’s game. Less skilled teams are dying to get talented teams away from their strengths, get them chirping, get them scrumming after the whistle. You want them to forget they can outplay you.

At the same time, as the more-skilled team you can’t be a total pushover. You can’t fail the Punk Test (still love that Steve Dangle article on the Punk Test).

So, I believe the point is sort of true – you have to come out in those first five-ten minutes with a bit of eff you in your game. A burr in your britches. But you also have to draw the line between standing up to your opponent (banging and crashing between the whistles, not taking BS), and getting lost in foolishness (post-whistle facewashing, etc).

Real toughness is about getting to the puck first and taking hits to move the puck the right way anyway. You gotta be smart.

15. Last week, there was a note about how the Blackhawks looked a bit bored. This win reminded me of a story from a few years ago: a coach of a very good team was asked about a “blah” stretch his group went through. He grabbed the next month’s schedule and pointed to four games — two each against big conference rivals. “No matter what happens with the other games,” he said, “I bet we’re going to win these four.” He was right, a total sweep. These phases happen.

This is getting embarrassing, I usually agree with Elliotte far less often.

The other day I wrote this, on the idea of “peaking at the right time” and all that. I basically contended that teams do get bored, particularly good ones, which is why you shouldn’t be surprised when they suddenly start “peaking” (being good again) “at the right time” (when it matters).

I can see the Blackhawks starting to power up the mothership soon.

23. It is extremely likely the Hurricanes are going to try and minimize their current contract responsibilities. The two names who stick out are Cam Ward (who has no-trade protection) and Jeff Skinner (who does not). If you ask other teams about Ward, they say they’ve been told he’s healthy. But, he doesn’t look like the confident 2006 Conn Smythe winner. Carolina’s shown willingness to eat salary if necessary, so if Ward finishes strong, can that close a deal?

No thanks on the Cam Ward, but I’ll happily take your slightly-used Jeff Skinner if it’s for sale (said hopefully every NHL GM upon reading that). Poach this guy if you can. I still maintain that goals are the toughest thing to come by in hockey, and this kid is a beast.

Look at his track record – he scored 30 as a rookie(!), scored 21 in 64 games as a sophomore (injury), scored 13 the next year (on pace for 25, lockout), and has 26 in 60 games this year. Oh yeah, and he’s still 21.

To compare those goal-scoring numbers to the first four seasons of other players who were in the league super-young, his goals-per-game clip (scoring in 36.3% of his career NHL games) is better than that of Marian Gaborik, Phil Kessel, and Jarome Iginla just to pull a few names out of a hat (and they all got off to solid starts). It’s about what Jonathan Toews put up (within a percentage point). Highly touted young goal-scorer Evander Kane’s goal-scoring rate is about 30.8%, nowhere near Skinner’s.

Skinner could be a 30-goal guy for nearly another decade. I know I’d be calling.

24. The other question: Can Anton Khudobin, who should have been arrested for grand larceny last week in Columbus, handle a number one workload? He’s 28 and this is the first time he’s played more than 14 NHL games in a season.

Well sure, but look at his circumstances. He’s been great absolutely everywhere he’s been.

He was drafted by the Wild, and immediately got stuck behind Backstrom and Harding at 23-24-years-old. So he’s a rookie, and the Wild season him. He allows six goals in his first six NHL starts. At 25 he goes to Boston and gets stuck behind Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask (one more NHL game, one more goal against). At 26 during the lockout shortened year he becomes Boston’s back-up, gets 30% of the starts, and pitches a .920 save percentage. At 27 he goes to Carolina, and in 40% of the starts is sporting a .927. And the only reason he’s only seen 40% of the starts is because he missed half of October and all of November and December with an injury.

50 career games in and he’s at .929 overall. While that’s not sustainable (I don’t think?), he can afford a pretty big drop and still be an NHL starter. What more could he possibly do to prove himself?

Guy has done nothing but be great everywhere and he turns 28 in May. I’m not ready to play the “If he hasn’t made it by now, can we trust him?” card just yet.

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Bonus:

28. Was starting to look at the awards voting for this season. The biggest torture is going to be the Norris. You’ve got “The Big Five” — Zdeno Chara, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Then you’ve got Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Kronwall, Alex Pietrangelo and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. And Mark Giordano. The more you look at Giordano, the better the case. He and partner T.J. Brodie have been excellent for Calgary, playing the tough minutes. In any other year, he gets one of my five slots, easy. Some excellent defenders will be left out.

No Erik Karlsson, the one-man breakout machine, eh? No Subban either. Tough crop this year.

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